DIMENSIONS: 6 3/4 x 11 in. (17.2 x 28 cm), approx.
COMPONENTS: Each side of the rectangular plinth is carved with the Buddha flanked by a pair of devotees.
NOTES: For similar examples of schist bases, see Ingholt, Gandharan Art in Pakistan, 1957, nos. 249 & 316.

Michael Cohn Asian Antiques, LLC, New York, 27 March 2004
The Rapoport Collection, New York
ITEM ID: 5456
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A Schist Stupa Base with the Buddha

Notes: 2nd/3rd Century

The architecture of Gandhara, like its sculpture, combines local characteristics with elements derived from both Indian and western precedents. The major archaeological sources for the architecture and sculpture of Gandhara are the remains of religious establishments such as stupas and monasteries. Stupas are reliquary structures in monasteries that are the focus of veneration. The first Buddhist stupas were built to house the remains of the historical Buddha, who lived between the fourth and fifth centuries BCE. Later stupas may have contained the remains of the Buddha or Buddhist saints, or such sacred objects as jewelry, precious stones, coins, texts, or sometimes figurative works of art.

Traditionally, a stupa consists of a cylindrical base, a structure called a drum, and a hemispherical dome. This dome supports a post, surmounted by one or more canopies, that represents the axis of the world. Worshippers walk clockwise around the base of the dome, with one circle of the stupa representing the Buddha’s life cycle. In Gandhara a unique type of stupa developed. The drum is elevated and rests on a square podium. Sometimes lion columns mark the four corners of the podium, and Corinthian pilasters are added to the base and drum. Gandharan stupas also frequently featured large, richly decorated false dormers.

The bases, drums, and fences (harmikas) of Gandharan stupas were frequently decorated with images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas, or with narrative reliefs, which are distinguished from North Indian reliefs in their emphasis on the linear unfolding of events. Gandharan reliefs depicted many scenes from the Buddha’s life, although his birth, enlightenment, First Sermon, and attainment of Nirvana are considered the key events. Gandharans also attached great importance to the Buddha’s “Great Departure,” when he left his palace as a young prince to become a mendicant. Donors dedicated many sculptures of the Buddha to monasteries in Gandhara, and shrines surrounding and aligned with stupa courts often contained larger-scale Buddha sculptures.